“We’re not curing cancer here”

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Apologies to those of you who ARE curing cancer – more power to you! I only wish I can get to work in your field!

I picked this title for my post because those exact words came out of my mouth 3 days in a row.  The context was to help add a bit of perspective.

In an intense work environment, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up over the crisis du jour.   Everybody lives and breathes those issues continuously.   We wake in the middle of the night obsessing about stuff.  We work so late we miss putting our children to bed.   We start going to pieces physically and mentally after a period of continuous obsession.  We burn out.  Yet is this particular crisis worth the cost, knowing there are 6 more crises like that right on its heels?

If one only takes a step back and looks at the situation, 99% of the time the perceived crisis is really not a life and death issue that must be resolved either that day, or on a compressed schedule that requires superhuman stamina and 16 hour work days for 5 weeks for the entire team.

We aren’t curing cancer here, or bringing clean water to all the children in developing countries, or bringing about world peace. It really isn’t important enough to risk burning out.  Once you do burn yourself out, it takes a very long time to undo the damage, if it can be done at all.

Don’t get me wrong – anyone who knows me knows that I am a complete nut regarding sticking to my commitments and being accountable for my deliverables.   I expect the same of people I work with.  But one must apply judgement to what one should promise to deliver, and by when. Most of the time, it’s best to diagnose a situation, then come up calmly with a mitigation plan that contemplates human limits when projecting a target due date for associated deliverables.

I believe in keeping the work load at an intense but sustainable level, so that we have reserves to draw on when that real crisis does appear (e.g. if our servers come down, cutting access to all our customers).  We must learn to breathe a little the rest of the time, or we wouldn’t be in top shape to act effectively when a real need arises.

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2 Responses to ““We’re not curing cancer here””


  1. 1 mpv March 19, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Well said Elaine.


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